Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, February 7, 2014: SHIRLEY JACKSON DAY

There is so much information about Shirley Jackson online that I won't burden you with it here. A very nice interview with her son and a reading of her story "Paranoia" appears in THE NEW YORKER. In brief Jackson died at age 48 after a life that was difficult in many ways. She was married to the critic, Stanley Hyman and had four kids. "The Lottery" must rank as one of the most- read short stories in the U.S. And THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE stands at the top of most lists of American ghost stories.

 Life Among the Savages (1952)
Like most other American students, I'm sure, I was introduced to Shirley Jackson's work via her chilling story "The Lottery," surely one of the most famous American short stories every written.  This was probably the early 1960s.  In 1963 the brilliant adaptation of her The Haunting of Hill House was released (as The Haunting) and it remains (IMHO) one of the best adaptations and horror movies ever made.  When I eventually read the book I was even more impressed, especially with the casting of Julie Harris as the central character, Eleanor. I have since gone on to read and enjoy Jackson's collection of other short stories, but as I don't have the book at hand I don't really feel that I can write about it here.  I can write about my favorite of her books, however.
It was in the early 1970s when a friend recommended Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, Jackson's two thinly-disguised memoirs about bringing up her three (later a fourth was born) children while running a household and taking care of a not very helpful husband in Vermont.  No one who has read of eldest son Laurie's adventures in school is likely to forget it.  The same goes for Jackson's attempts at learning to drive.  Apparently these were published first as separate stories in women's magazines like Good Housekeeping before Jackson edited them into a "novel" and published it in 1952, four short years after "The Lottery" came out and caused such an uproar.
If you only know Jackson from her most famous work and want to try something lighter, I would definitely recommend this one.  I recently picked up copies of both of her "memoirs" for rereading.
                                                                                                                                                                                                             reviewed by Jeff Meyerson

PRIVATE DEMONS, THE LIFE OF SHIRLEY JACKSON, Judy Oppenheimer

I read this book in December, 1987, being a big fan of Shirley Jackson all my life. I once had a nice fat collection of Jackson's work, which was damaged by ice that broke through our ceiling, soaking everything beneath. I have never replaced most of it unfortunately. But I think I've probably read most of the collected pieces of fiction she wrote and all of the novels, enjoying the domestic stories as much as the very dark ones.
Her bifurcated writing interests seem like two sides of a very familiar coin.

This book, and there may be a newer one by now, tries and succeeds in explaining much about Jackson's life. Raised by an abusive mother, married to a man (esteemed literary critic, Stanley Hyman) who recognized her brilliance but didn't let that interfere with his affairs, Jackson managed to write some of the most original stories of her era. She feared anonymity after death; feared the public would not understand the meaning of her stories. Jackson's accounts of family life (RAISING DEMONS, LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES) are as much fun to read as her darker novels and stories. Oppenheimer is very skilled at tying incidents in Jackson's life to stories she wrote at the time. She uses interviews and anecdotes to great effect. If you want to understand where stories like THE LOTTERY came from, this book will help.


WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE.
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This is an amazing novel on my second reading, decades after my first. Its characters are few, they are pretty much nailed to one spot, and not much action takes places. Its high quality depends on Jackson's ability to create characters that speak and act like real people despite being essentially ghosts. You can easily see the mind that created both THE LOTTERY and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE in this novel. It was her last novel, written in 1962, three years after HILL HOUSE.

The Blackwood family lost four of its members six years earlier. Since then Mary Katherine, a teenager, her older sister Charlotte and the elderly and ill Uncle Julian haven't strayed farther than the country store. Uncle Julian lives completely in the past, reliving a specific day in time. Charlotte spends her time cooking, canning and hiding. And Mary Katherine (Merricat) dreams and devises spells to protect them. The townspeople thinkCharlotte got away with murder and Merricat's trips into town incite their rage and amusement at the Blackwood's fate. When Cousin Charles comes to stay with them, he sets events into motion that send the family even farther into isolation. He is a villain you can really hate.

The writing in this novel is sublime. Jackson creates a world that is both seductive and frightening. I read this as a teenager but I think it takes an adult to appreciate what strong characters Jackson created.

Sergio Angelini, THE LOTTERY
BOOKSLUT, THE BIRD'S NEST
The Book Smugglers, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
Jerry House, THE SUNDIAL
George Kelley, SHIRLEY JACKSON: NOVELS AND STORIES
B.V. Lawson, AMERICAN FANTASTIC TALES, edited by Peter Straub
Todd Mason, SHIRLEY JACKSON'S First Stories Publsihed in Fantasy Magazines
Terrie Moran, THE LOTTERY
J.F. Norris, JUST AN ORDINARY DAY
Richard Robinson, LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES
SLATE, HANGSAMAN,
STUCK IN A BOOK, RAISING DEMONS
Prashant Trikannad, "Charles" and "The Witch"
Yahoo Voices, THE ROAD THROUGH THE WALL 


Joe Barone, ONE WAS A WASTE NO TEARS, SOLDIER, Julia Spencer Fleming
Brian Busby, WASTE NO TEARS. Jarvis Warwick
Bill Crider, THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES AND NOVELS, 1956
Scott Cupp, THE RAINBOW GOBLIN,  Ul de rico
Martin Edwards, MYSTERY IN WHITE, J. Jefferson Farjeon
Elisabeth Grace Foley, THOROFARE, Christopher Morley
Nick Jones, A NEW YORK DANCE, Donald Westlake
Margot Kinberg, WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO, Anya Lipska
K.A. Laity, RITUAL, David Pinner
Evan Lewis, "Cry Murder" Norbert Davis
Steve Lewis, THE NET AROUND JOAN INGILBY, J. Fielding
James Reasoner, QUEST OF THE GOLDEN APE, Ivar Jorganson and David ChaseKevin Tipple, THE LAST REFUGE, Chris Knopf
R.T. SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, Arnaldur Indridason
Tomcat, David Cargill
Yvette, TRENT'S OWN CASE, E. C. Bentley


5 comments:

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Here's mine: Thorofare by Christopher Morley.

John said...

Please change the link by my name. I have my Shirley Jackson post up now:

Just an Ordinary Day, an anthology of unpublished work and some of her magazine short stories.

Todd Mason said...

And on this ridiculous day, in this ridiculous week, mine's typically more historical than critical:

Shirley Jackson's stories first published in fantasy-fiction magazines.

K. A. Laity said...

I didn't see the Shirley Jackson theme, but I did do an FFB, David Pinner's Ritual, the original spark for The Wicker Man.

Charles Gramlich said...

I wonder what she would have written with another decade or two. A shame.